Potentially deadly legal highs are being outlawed across Blackpool in a tough new clamp-down on shops selling the controversial drugs.
Five stores in the resort have been hit with a formal notice banning them from selling psychoactive substances in a bid to stem the flow of children being taken to hospital after experimenting with them.
It comes as experts warned youngsters in the resort are abusing cocktails of different legal highs – putting themselves at risk of unknown and possibly fatal side effects.
Town hall chiefs today hit out at traders selling legal highs in the resort as they revealed they were using pioneering new laws to help ban the practice.
Coun Gillian Campbell, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for public safety, said: “Legal highs are an absolute scourge and, in my opinion, selling them is no better than drug dealing.
“Our experience is that they are having the same and, at times, a worse effect on people than some illegal drugs.
“Those selling them, whether knowingly or not, are often capitalising on the vulnerability of people with pre-existing addictions.”
The council has grown increasingly concerned over legal high use among children since three pupils at St Mary’s Catholic College were rushed to hospital after smoking ‘Pandora’s Box’ last May.
In the last year, legal highs were known to be responsible for 15 cases where under 16s were admitted to hospital but the council fears the true figure could be higher.
Selling the drugs, often marked “not for human consumption” to under 18s is not illegal but there is a voluntary code against the practice that shops are meant to follow.
Coun Campbell added: “People are becoming addicted to these substances and we simply cannot allow that to go unchallenged. We also implore the businesses who are selling them to search their consciences and stop now.”
It is thought this is the first time new powers to curb anti-social behaviour, introduced by the Government last year, have been used in this way.
The council served five stores with a community protection notice on Friday, saying they were “having a detrimental effect” on the town by selling legal highs.
The orders bar them from “selling, offering or exposing for sale any psychoactive substances, research chemicals or legal highs”.
The stores, which the council has not named, were visited by council officers yesterday morning for the first in a series of regular checks and all were found to be complying with the orders. Any store found to be breaching the orders face prosecution.
Blackpool Council said it was not revealing the names of the shops affected to avoid advertising them to people seeking out legal highs.
Jackie Crooks, from The Hub, which provides education and treatment for young people with substance misuse problems, said legal highs were a growing problem.
She added: “The worrying trend is that young people will take a mixture of different legal highs, that have different effects, and this is leading to hospital admissions and increased health concerns.”
Maggie Cork, from Blackpool’s Horizon project, a drug treatment service, said: “Most worrying is the direct effect on the mental health of the individual many of whom are presenting at our local A&E Department displaying signs of drug induced psychosis and severe anxious states.”
Dr Arif Rajpura, Blackpool Council’s director of public health, said: “You can’t really be sure what’s in a legal high and what effect it may have on your body and mind.
“We know that many of them have been directly linked to hospital admissions, poisoning and even death. Just because these things are being sold as “legal” doesn’t mean that they are safe.”
Anyone with concerns over the effects of legal highs can contact Horizon on (01253) 752100 or The Hub on (01253) 476010.
To report a store selling legal highs, call (01253) 478375.
‘Legal highs stopped his heart’
Experts and drug users with first-hand experience of legal highs have both told of the devastating effect they can have.
A former addict from Blackpool, who needed hospital treatment on one occasion, said: “After an initial high, it made me feel sick and I began to vomit. Because the high was quite short, it was very addictive and I continued to take more.”
One person who works with young homeless people recalled two people who spent £35,000 on legal highs in eight weeks after a scratch card win. And a member of staff at a local hostel described seeing the effects of legal highs on two people after one became violently sick.
He said: “The other client collapsed and was discovered in his room face down in his own vomit, having soiled himself, and was experiencing a seizure.
“An ambulance was called to the client and his heart subsequently stopped on the way to hospital. The paramedics managed to revive him but he was extremely close to dying.”
Legal highs: What are the facts?
Legal highs first became popular in 2009, when mephedrone became one of the most fashionable party drugs.
The drug simulates the effects of ecstasy (MDMA) but was made of new chemical compounds that weren’t technically illegal.
Mephedrone was banned a year later, but since then the race of creating new drugs has dramatically increased.
So far 350 legal highs have been banned by the coalition Government.
A survey last year found that one fifth of students who started university in 2014 had tried some form of legal high.
The Government is able to make a legal high a controlled substance using what is called a Temporary Control Drug Order (TCDO).
They must speak to their official advisers, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), but as long as they think a legal high could be misused and that misuse could have harmful effects they will be able to ban it for 12 months.
Once a legal high has been banned with a TCDO, importing, exporting, producing and supplying it is then illegal. Anyone convicted of one of these offences could be sentenced to a maximum of 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine.
Possession of a drug that is temporarily controlled is not illegal, but police can take away and destroy any drugs that they find on you.
Once a TCDO has been made, the drug and its effects will be looked at more closely to decide if it should be banned permanently. The TCDO ends after 12 months, or before if the drug is permanently controlled before then.
‘Not for human consumption’ but I’m simply told to take my pick of the products on offer
Town hall bosses have today taken action to stop stores in Blackpool selling legal highs. But how easy are they to buy... and what exactly is being offered? Gazette reporter RYAN TUTE paid a visit to one shop in the resort to find out for himself
Putting an end to the sale of legal highs is just one part of a bid to clean up the streets of Blackpool.
Several shops in the resort offer these “legal highs” which are advertised to give buyers an “irresistible bud aroma”.
Baths, Bongs ‘N’ Burns in Cookson Street is just one, offering customers anything from sedatives, stimulants to hallucinogens.
On entry to the shop, there is a strong smell of burning with one half of the premises dedicated to pyrography – the art of decorating wood or leather by burning a design onto its surface.
Two members of staff dedicated to their craft barely notice customers coming in and out as they concentrate on designing their blank canvasses.
But in between the mass of flags draped from the ceiling, there is a counter positioned to the back of the room.
Before reaching that, it’s hard to bypass the array of colour in the shop with a variety of striking packs of pills and T-shirts dominated by the red, green and gold flag of Jamaica.
The second half of the shop is known as “Bad Habitz Smoking Products” which deals in anything from bongs to vaporisers.
There is a clear attempt to focus on novelty products with “Marley’s Magic”, “Rudolph’s Red Eye” and “Snoop Dogg G-Pens” all on sale.
Packet after packet is clearly labelled “not for human consumption” .
After a frosty welcome by the owner, I am soon told to “take my pick” with an assortment of different packs on show under a glass counter.
After asking me for age identification, he seems staggered to see an age of 25 displayed on my driving licence.
I am eventually sold his “best-seller” known as “Bud Factory Classic Extreme” which cost £5 for a 1g packet.
It also states “not for human consumption” on the front with other notable warnings that include “eye, skin and respiratory irritation” if consumed.
The owner is quick to realise I am new to the world of legal highs and recalls people’s experiences with some of the “spices”.
He told me: “The highs vary in strength, you get people coming in all the time and because they hear legal, they want the strongest high they can get hold of and end up spewing their guts up all over the bathroom floor.”
The ban on selling legal highs are part of the council’s attempt to outlaw various nuisance activities in the town centre and on the Promenade to help reduce levels of crime.
The owner himself even pointed out that the high I had just purchased might not be available the next day.
He said: “I’ve had people in from the council telling me that I might not be able to sell them from 5pm.
“They’re complaining of people getting ASBOs and causing trouble on the streets because of taking things,
“The highs have been on the market for years and it’s only now they’re looking for a scapegoat and blaming it on us.”